John Barrowman release his festive album A Fabulous Christmas and like Christmas dinner, there’s bits I love (everything apart from the sprouts) and bits I really don’t (the sprouts)
“Well I’m all grown up now
And still need help somehow”
A relatively late entry into the festive album market (Idina Menzel released back in October!), John Barrowman’s A Fabulous Christmas burst onto the scene last week, complete with a neck injury that jeopardised the opening nights of its accompanying tour. Intensive rehabilitation seems to have got him back on the road but how is the album? Can Barrowman convince me that spoken adlibs are ever a good thing on record…?
As it often the case with Barrowman as a performer, for me at least, there are moments of pure loveliness and others when it is all just a bit too much. When he turns down the power in his voice and allows its character to shine through, you understand why he is such a popular singer. The tender restraint of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, the gently swinging fun of ‘Happy Holidays’ with The Puppini Sisters, the hushed beauty of the medley of ‘Be Thou My Vision’ and ‘Away in a Manger’, these are seasonal classics in the making.
Elsewhere, there are choices which just don’t work as well for me. ‘O Holy Night’ suffers less of a key change than a personality crisis. ‘When A Child Is Born’ is lumbered with an arrangement that is a little too bombastic for the song to bear, especially when the choir comes crashing in. ‘And the arrangement of ‘It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year’ has a frantic pace that doesn’t always necessarily feel suited to the full orchestra.
By comparison, ‘Sleigh Bells’ is a much more successful high-tempo number which locates a really rather lovely snuggly warmth. Similarly, if lyrically ‘Grown-Up Christmas List’ is saccharine in the extreme, there’s no denying the beauty of its musical swells as Barrowman sings with real sincerity. I’ve long been on the opinion that spoken word interjections are rarely a good idea in any circumstance, and there’s little to disabuse you of that notion here. But it is Christmas and I’ll forgive him since when this alvum works, it really is fabulous.